Category Archives: reading

There is Room for All of Us

My first real fiction writing was in college, when I wrote and performed in a sketch comedy group.  It’s been twenty years since I’ve seen or read anything we wrote back then, so I have no perspective on whether what we produced was good or terrible. But I know that we believed in the work we were doing, and we were always driven by the simple motto of our group’s president: Something for Everyone. Every show was a melange of of slapstick, satire, jokes that landed, and jokes that didn’t.

It’s the kind of motto that’s so simple that it seems almost silly to repeat.  Of course there should be something for everyone.  Of course. But back then it was a reminder that there isn’t just one kind of comedy. An audience is made up of a lot of different people; what’s eye-rollingly lame for one person may be hilarious to someone else, so don’t yuck anyone’s yum.  There’s room for all of it.

I was recently at a writing retreat with brilliant, inspirational speakers.  One speaker gave a beautiful presentation, and she told a story about an art student who was devastated when a professor told her, “Your art looks like something I could find at Crate & Barrel.” Part of the talk was about how to avoid writing a Crate & Barrel book. After the lecture, my friend turned to me and said, “But I like Crate & Barrel.”

I laughed and said, “Dude, Crate & Barrel is all I write.”  My forthcoming book series, Babysitting Nightmares, is a fairly-commercial spooky adventure series that is billed as Babysitters Club meets Goosebumps.  I love poignant, thought-provoking symbolic writing; reading a beautifully-written book is like savoring a gourmet meal.  It’s just not what I happen to be interested in writing right now.

That same speaker reminded us of the resonance and impact of writing. She said that once her first book was published, she realized that sales numbers didn’t matter; awards didn’t matter. If just one kid could read her book and say, “This means something to me,” then that is enough.  That is the reason to write.

In my mind, I write the books I write for a specific imaginary kid. It’s the kid who flounders during free reading time, because she can’t find a book that pulls her in.  It’s the kid who has almost no stars on the classroom reading chart. It’s the kid who says I don’t really like to read. I hated seeing those kids feel like they were always missing out on something, like reading was a punchline that everyone else seemed to get. Somewhere out there is a book that that kid will pick up and be able to say, Yes, I am a reader, too.

What I love about kidlit is also what I loved about comedy: the bandwidth is almost unlimited. We have so much freedom to tell the stories we want to tell.  We need every kind of story to be out in the world, because we have every kind of kid looking for a way to connect.  Something for everyone.  There’s room for all of it.  And I think that is why the kidlit community is such a supportive one.  We celebrate one another because we know that with every new book comes a new opportunity for a child to find the reader within.

***

Kat Shepherd is a writer and educator living in Los Angeles with her husband, two dogs, and a rotating series of foster dogs. She has been an avid reader since childhood, and as a teacher she worked to bring that same joy to her students. She is thrilled to be creating fast-paced, spooky stories that can engage all types of readers. The first book from her Babysitting Nightmares series (Macmillan/Imprint) debuts in fall 2018. You can find Kat at katshepherd.com or connect with her on Twitter @bookatshepherd.

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Filed under Reaching Readers, reading, Writing, Writing and Life

Border Collies and Babies—It’s Never Too Soon To Start (plus a giveaway!)

The story I’m about to tell is relevant to Terry Pierce’s MAMA LOVES YOU SO. I promise.

mama-loves-you-so-coverYears ago, my brother got a beautiful border collie puppy. I remember how excited Warren was, and I remember the solemn advice the breeder gave him. It was this: Show the dog everything he’s ever going to see within the first six months of his life. In short, it was Warren and his family’s responsibility to quickly give intelligent, impressionable Comet the information he’d need to thrive.

*presses pause on dog story*

My first professional, if unrequited, love is midwifery. Permit me to geek out for a bit.

The importance of verbally communicating with babies—and I mean from about 6 months gestation onward—cannot be overstated. Auditory function in the human fetus is complete at 7 months. Not only do they hear and respond to outside noises, research suggests babies learn intonation and can develop a basic recognition of words before birth. After birth, newborns rapidly form brain synapses that correspond with their birth language. In fact, studies have shown that young children who leave their birth language behind through immigration or adoption retain an enhanced ability to relearn it. Cool, huh?

Now let’s talk about MAMA LOVES YOU SO. This book, meant for the tiny ears of the tiniest of people, employs exquisitely rich and melodic language. It describes a world that is sparkling, stony, and ablaze. These are words an adult would be happy to use on a given day. MAMA LOVES YOU SO is crammed full of such delicious and nutritious words. It’s a brain-building buffet for babies and a boon to the brave souls who care for them. Baby and Book

Babies are exhausting. I know. I’ve had two babies, and two aren’t many at all. My in-laws had ten. My parents had five. Have I wondered if  I’m a slacker in the baby department? Yes. But that’s not my point.

Babies require mountains of back-breaking, laundry-making, sleep-taking care, and that’s just to keep them alive. We’re also supposed to educate, encourage, and entertain them. While all forms of communication nourish babies’ language readiness, including singing and everyday conversation, it’s challenging to know what to sing or say to a baby all day, every day.

I ask you, how are sleep-deprived people, wracked as they are with desperate love and stabs of anxiety, supposed to dredge up words like ablaze? They need books. They need books to give them words when they are too tired or overwhelmed to think up their own. Their children are primed to quickly learn millions of discrete, dynamic words, and optimally, they’d possess this treasure trove before starting school.  Where language acquisition is concerned, variety isn’t the spice of life, it is life. Books like MAMA LOVES YOU SO are a sure and happy route to that variety.

We must encourage caregivers, all the caregivers, to talk to babies early and often. Encourage them to talk to the belly, to sing to it, explain stuff to it, and for the love of literacy, to read to it. Encourage them to talk to the newborn. To sing. To explain. To read. We can smile at them benevolently when they do all of this in public. If we get the chance, we can give the caregiver a minute to shower and eat something while we talk, sing, explain, and read.

It might be possible to show a puppy everything it’s ever going to see in six months, but it’s impossible for a human newborn. Luckily, we have opposable thumbs, and opposable thumbs are great for making bookstores and libraries. That’s where Terry Pierce’s beautiful and important MAMA LOVES YOU SO can be found, ready and waiting to offer intelligent, impressionable young people information they need to thrive.

*presses play on dog story* 

Comet lived a long and happy life. He understood his world and how to conduct himself in it, thanks to purposeful attention to his formative experiences. May we do the same for each new child. We have longer than six months to accomplish it, but we don’t have forever. It’s never too soon to start.

 

Terry is giving away a signed copy of MAMA LOVES YOU SO as part of her book launch week. How to enter? Leave a comment below! For every comment you make this week—and please comment only once per day—she’ll enter your name into the giveaway.

Additional resources:

http://www.tipsonlifeandlove.com/book-mom

Valerie Garfield, Simon & Schuster editor of MAMA LOVES YOU SO, blogs about reading to and with children.

1000 Books Before Kindergarten

https://1000booksbeforekindergarten.org/about-us/mission-statement/


Enjoy the day,

Hayley
Hayley's Author PhotoI write for young people and live to make kids laugh. BABYMOON, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press, spring 2019. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, narrative nonfiction illustrated by Diana Sudyka, is also coming spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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The Emus’ Favorite Reads of 2015

We’re drawing to the close of 2015, and it’s been another great year of writing and reading for the Emus! Here are some of the titles we adored most this year:

PICTURE BOOKS

archieDebbi Michiko Florence: BUNNIES by Kevan Atteberry. Laugh out loud funny and cute!bunnies

Jason Gallaher: For an Antarctic, Literally Laughing Out Loud PB moment, everyone should read ARCHIE THE DAREDEVIL PENGUIN by Andy Rash. These are the most hysterical penguins you’ll ever see!

Elaine Vickers: My kids and I fell absolutely in love with two Pat Zietlow Miller titles this year: WHEREVER YOU GO and SHARING THE BREAD. Gorgeous and touching for grownups, and tons of kid appeal too.

MIDDLE GRADE AND CHAPTER BOOKS

Debbi Michikechoo Florence: For middle grade, GOODBYE STRANGER by Rebecca Stead, A HANDFUL OF STARS by Cynthia Lord – both are touching and sweet with characters you ache for. For chapter books, CLEO EDISON OLIVER, PLAYGROUND MILLIONAIRE by Sundee Frazier (but it’s not out till January).

Elly Schwartz: THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander and RAIN REIGN by Ann M. Martin. Loved both. PAPER THINGS by Jennifer Jacobson. EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS by Deborah Wiles (not new in 2015, but new to me), and THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE by our own Janet Fox (coming in March!)moonpenny

Hayley Barrett: K.A. Holt’s HOUSE ARREST is dazzling, and I loved Natalie Llyod’s A SNICKER OF MAGIC.

Tamara Ellis SmithECHO by Pam Muñoz Ryan and CRENSHAW by Katharine Applegate.

Sarvinder NaberhausFISH IN A TREE by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Jennifer Chambliss BertmanI bought Steve Sheinken’s MOST DANGEROUS as a Christmas gift, but couldn’t resist reading it first myself. It’s so good , I’m now gifting it to two people instead of just the one, and I’m keeping the original copy I bought for myself. Another favorite was MOONPENNY ISLAND by Tricia Springstubb. Beautiful writing.

YOUNG ADULT

Janet FoxdeathMartha Brockenbrough’s THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH was a favorite, and Laura Ruby’s BONE GAP!

Elaine Vickers: CHALLENGER DEEP by Neal Shusterman and CALVIN by Martine Leavitt were both thoughtful and powerful novels about mental
illness that were so beautifully written.

Tamara Ellis Smith: THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH by Martha Brockenbrough, and DIRT BIKES, DRONES, AND OTHER WAYS TO FLY by Conrad Wesselhoeftsimon

Elly Schwartz: FAT ANGIE by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo

Jason Gallaher: The book that blew me away this year was Becky Albertalli’s SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA. This is the kind of book that scared-to-come-out 15-year-old me would have felt so comforted and reassured and Holy-Moly-I’m-Not-Alone to have read. Plus, it’s got one of the cutest YA couples ever!

Thanks for participating, Emus! And readers, what were your favorite books of 2015?

 

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A Fan Letter to Readers

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Dear Readers Everywhere,

I know you probably hear this a lot, but I’m seriously your biggest fan! I’ve wanted to meet you for over a decade, and now that it’s finally happened, I’m totally FREAKING OUT!

You know that one day when you said how much you loved my book? Oh . . . my . . . gosh. My heart was beating a million times a minute. I keep wondering if you’re all secretly related to me, or if maybe my mother has made a hundred or so sock-puppet Goodreads accounts just so she can encourage me to keep writing.

But then you tell me you’re from the Philippines, or Texas, or Canada, or London, or Slovenia, or that gorgeous African island of Mauritius, and I just can’t wrap my head around it! And never in a million years did I think that even one of the 1.2 billion people in India would even know I existed, let alone be excited to read a novel I wrote! Like . . . what?!

You do realize that I grew up in a small town of about 5,000 people, right? That the most outrageous thing I ever dreamed of was going to Hawaii one day? And when that happened at sixteen (my first plane ride), I thought, “Wow. That’s about as good as life can get.”

But then I decided to be a writer. And I hoped people would actually like what I wrote, enough to even pay money for it. But I soon learned that this dream was, as some teenagers today might have told me, totes cray cray.

I had no clue whatsoever how much work would be involved, or how many times I would get my heart broken, or feel like a complete and utter idiot for even thinking I could become a published author.

But you, super-awesome readers, have changed everything. You’ve made me believe that all of the hard work and heartache was not only worth it, but have given me so much HAPPINESS that I’m jumping up and down with jazz hands in the air, wanting to do it all over again!

So sign me up for even more writer’s block, and self-doubt, and pulling my hair out! Go ahead and toss in some of that heartache and rejection! That’s right!

I’m ready.

This time I’m well prepared for the crazy/awful/awesome pathway to publication, because I now know who’s waiting for me at the end of it.

You.

 

All of my fan-girling love and deepest gratitude,

Amy Finnegan, Published author of NOT IN THE SCRIPT, Bloomsbury 2014 (OMG!!!)

Book for Chris

Just one of many amazing people I signed a book for in the past month! #Star-Lord

Gabrielle

Gabrielle from New Hampshire. The first reader I know of to spy it & buy it in the wild!

_________________________________ IMG_0723-2

Amy Finnegan writes her own stories because she enjoys falling in love over and over again, and thinks everyone deserves a happy ending. She likes to travel the world—usually to locations where her favorite books take place—and owes her unquenchable thirst for reading to Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, came about after hearing several years of behind-the-scenes stories from her industry veteran brother. She’s also been lucky enough to visit dozens of film sets and sit in on major productions such as Parks and Recreation and Parenthood. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, Instagram: StrangerThanFictionWriter, or Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author).

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Filed under Dreams Come True, Farewell, Happiness, reading, rejection and success, Thankfulness, Updates on our Books!, Writing and Life

Why Writers Should Be Readers

galley box largeAs a writer of books for children, the most difficult thing for me to admit is that I wasn’t a big reader when I was a child (which is very a-typical for kidlit authors). I read and loved a lot of picture books during my elementary school years, and then some Amelia Bedelia early readers, but I can literally name—on just two hands—the novels I remember finishing before I graduated from high school. They were pretty much all by Judy Blume and Roald Dahl.

I look back now and can’t figure out exactly why I wasn’t a big reader—my parents both read incessantly and took me to the library all the time—but I have a clue. Truth be known, reading was difficult for me. More often than not, I felt frustrated because I would read five or ten pages and then realize I had no idea what was going on. I couldn’t remember which character was which or how they knew one another. I didn’t feel attached to the story at all. As it turns out, I had a learning disability that I didn’t know about until I was in college. But I won’t put a label on it now because this isn’t the point of my post.

The point of my post is to say this: My writing ability has taken a very long time to develop because I wasn’t a big reader until I was in my twenties. And now I’ve been playing catch up for the next twenty years.

I started with non-fiction (typical for a college student), moved on to the adult market, then finally—for the first time in my life—truly discovered the magic of middle grade and young adult novels. And that’s when I fell in love with reading. It became an addiction.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King says, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

I wholeheartedly agree. Reading is, by far, the best thing a writer can do to sharpen his or her storytelling skills. Yes, you also need to write and write and write, for development, but very little improvement will take place if a writer isn’t learning from others through a process similar to osmosis. Exposure to excellent storytelling, and lots of it, can’t help but rub off.

As a reader, the more books you read, the pickier you become about loving a book verses just liking it. Or even finishing it. Right?

The same thing has happened to me as a writer. The more I read, the easier it becomes to pick out what makes a plot work and what hurts it. The characters in a great novel become my friends, and just like it’s simple for me to tell someone what I like about my real-life BFFs, I can more skillfully tell my readers what makes a person attractive or repulsive (at least to me). And I can also better understand, by reading excellent books, what my own weaknesses are as a writer. I struggle with the details of setting—how to make it feel natural without overdoing it—and transitions. (Why is it so darn difficult to move a character from one room or thought to another?!)

But when I see the masters at work, I learn. And I absorb.

And this is another critical element: A writer needs to know and understand the genre and market they’re writing for. If you’ve been involved with critique groups and read enough pages from beginning writers (and believe me, I was one of them, so I’m not knocking anyone), it’s likely that you’ve heard sample pages that don’t fit the parameters of the author’s intended market. Perhaps it’s a picture book with 3000 words. Or the story is about seniors in high school, who should be thinking about college applications and their unattainable crush, but is instead filled with pranks on teachers and middle grade gross-out humor.

Knowing what works in each market, and what doesn’t, is obviously paramount to your success. And you’ll only know this if you’re intimately familiar with your chosen genre.

And then there is pacing. This is another thing I struggle with. I think of a cool scene that I’m dying to get to, or that awesome moment when my two main characters finally get things right, and I want to make it happen that very moment. I want the plot to move over so my characters can make out express everything they’ve been holding back. But the best pacing uses restraint for a slow burn; it builds up for a worth-while reveal. It makes a reader work for the rewards. And it also knows when to push all the details about the carpet and drapery out of the way and get on with the story.

I love that about reading, because good pacing is something that can only be understood through experiencing it. It can’t really be taught, and it’s certainly difficult to master.

Another benefit of continuous reading is recognizing clichés or overdone plots. While it’s true that there are “no new ideas, only new voices” editors likely won’t even read your first page these days—no matter how stellar your writing is—if your pitch tells them that the new girl in school is unavoidably attracted to a mysterious boy who is actually—gasp!—a vampire/werewolf/dark angel. While this pitch in various forms sold book after book about seven years ago, writers who keep up with the ever-changing trends will likely know better than to spend their time on a similar plot (but check back in another seven years).

And the #1 reason to read: isn’t reading THE BEST THING EVER, anyway?

I’m still not a fast reader, and my struggles with attention haven’t entirely faded, but once I get hooked on a good book, I’m gone. I’m in heaven. And I want nothing more than to help my own readers experience this same emotion.

So tell me, what has reading done for your own writing? Has it helped you avoid overdone plots or character types? Honed your skills? Does good writing put you in the mood to work? It surely does that for me!

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IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes Young Adult novels and is a host at BookshopTalk.com. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, will be published by Bloomsbury, Fall 2014. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, and Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author). She is represented by Erin Murphy.

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EMU’s Best Under-the-Radar Kids’ Books of 2012!

Well, friends, it’s February now…which I think means that 2012 is truly, officially over. Best-of lists have been made, many literary awards covering the last year have been handed out, and we EMUs heartily congratulate our fellow authors who’ve been honored (including an impressive slew of EMU Emeriti!).

And yet, we can’t help thinking back on our favorite reads of the year—the ones that we couldn’t put down, the ones that made us swoon. The ones that, months later, we keep recommending to the kids (OK, and grown-ups) in our lives, even if they weren’t mega-best sellers or fancy award winners.

I asked a few fellow EMUs to share their favorite books that were published in 2012, focusing on titles that may have flown under the radar a little bit—and of course, they came through with enthusiasm. Looks like everyone’s TBR pile is about to get a little taller…

Carol Brendler

fitzosbornesI loved The FitzOsbornes at War, the third in a trilogy by Michelle Cooper (Knopf). A sort of alternative history of England in the second world war, the book is refreshingly sophisticated, well written, and meticulously and thoroughly researched. While not exactly ignored in the world of children’s literature, it’s one I felt deserved more attention than some of the top sellers.


Adi Rule

SledMy favorite read of 2012 was a picture book—The Iciest, Diciest, Scariest Sled Ride Ever! by Rebecca Rule (my mum) & Jennifer Thermes (Islandport Press). What happens when Lizzie, Patty P, Patty H, the Lapierre brothers, and even Chipper the dog decide to haul the long travois sled all the way up the big hill and ride it down?


Pat Zietlow Miller

little dogI will go with Little Dog, Lost by Marion Dane Bauer (Atheneum). It’s so sad. But it’s so sweet. On so many different levels. It’s such a moving look at loneliness and longing and love. And the writing? Exemplary.


Laurie Ann Thompson

BIGI loved BIG, written by Coleen Paratore and illustrated by Clare Fennell (Little Pickle Press).

Kids always want to be “bigger,” and adults tell children “you can do that when you’re bigger,” but there are plenty of ways little ones can be “big” in a different and much more important sense of the word. This empowering and inspiring book shows how even little children can accomplish some pretty big ideas—like being responsible for themselves and caring for others—and it serves as a gentle reminder to adult readers as well. The illustrations are bright and fun, and they enhance the text beautifully. This is definitely one of my favorite picture books of the year.

CrowAnd if I can add one more, I’d say As The Crow Flies by Sheila Keenan, illustrated by Kevin Duggan (Feiwel & Friends). This nonfiction picture book about crows is the book I was planning to write next, so I was angry and disappointed when I first saw that someone had beaten me to it. Once I saw it, though, I couldn’t be angry or disappointed anymore. It’s true to my idea and exactly what I wanted to accomplish, and it’s executed so, so well. I’m just happy to see it out in the world. Beautiful art, beautiful text, beautiful subject.


Tara Dairman

imgresIn middle grade, I adored Remarkable by Lizzie K. Foley (Dial). Clever, quirky, and often just downright hilarious, I think that any shelf containing Roald Dahl or Lemony Snicket books can’t be considered complete without it. Really, I defy any reader not to be charmed by this book—it has a pirate character named Captain Rojo Herring, for heaven’s sake.

FairCoin_250x387And in YA, I loved Fair Coin by E.C. Myers (Pyr). Featuring wonderfully believable teen characters and a just-freaky-enough sci-fi concept involving parallel universes, I couldn’t put this book down. It stands alone, but now a sequel, Quantum Coin, is out, too!


So, blog readers, have you read any of our picks? Or do you have any under-the-radar recommendations of your own? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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